My wife is currently confined in the hospital but the doctor already told me that she will be ready for discharge in the next couple of days. I am afraid, however, that I may not be able to take my wife out of the hospital because a staff told us that I have to pay her medical bill before they allow her to leave, and sadly, I have no means to settle it. May I know what I can do if the hospital will really refuse to allow my wife to leave?
It is beyond question that a hospital has the right to demand payment from its patients for the hospital expenses incurred for the latter’s treatment and collect whatever is due it. Nevertheless, the patient has a separate and independent right to leave the hospital premises, which cannot be defeated by the mere fact that he failed to pay his hospital bill. Should a hospital insist on disallowing the release of a patient due to non-payment of bill, the patient or his family may file appropriate actions in court.
In the case of Manila Doctors Hospital vs. Chua (G.R. No. 150355, July 31, 2006), the Supreme Court made a clear pronouncement that a hospital cannot detain a patient for non-payment of the hospital bill. It held that detention of a patient is permitted only when certain circumstances are present such as if the patient is a detained or convicted prisoner, is suffering from a very contagious disease or mentally ill such that his release will endanger public health and safety, or in other exigent cases as may be provided by law. A momentary delay in allowing the patient to leave the hospital is also permitted if he refuses to comply with some reasonable conditions.
Absent any of the exceptional circumstances, if the patient is prevented from leaving the hospital for his inability to pay the bill, any person who can act on his behalf can apply in court for the issuance of the writ of habeas corpus (Ibid.) Habeas corpus is a special proceeding available to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto (Sec.1, Rule 102, Rules of Court). It is a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint and the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom (Velasco vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 118644 July 7, 1995).
In addition, a patient may also consider filing a criminal charge for illegal detention under Article 267 or 268 of the Revised Penal Code depending on the surrounding circumstances of the case and provided all the elements of the crime can be sufficiently established.
If the patient did not stay in a private room, he may also file a criminal case for violation of Republic Act (RA) 9436, or the Anti-Detention in Hospital Act against the officers or employees of the hospital or medical clinic responsible for releasing patients. This law guarantees the right of a patient to leave the hospital or medical clinic, with a right to demand the issuance of the corresponding medical certificate and other pertinent papers required for the release of the patient from the hospital or medical clinic upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation and imposes a corresponding penalty of imprisonment and/or fine against concerned officers of the hospital who violate the law. Take note, however, that the law does not apply if the patient stayed in a private room. (Sections 2 & 3, Ibid.)
Based on the foregoing, you may file a petition for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus against the hospital should its administrators and officers refuse to release your wife, because of non-payment of the hospital bill. You may also consider filing criminal charges against the concerned officials and employees of the hospital depending on the specific circumstances of your case.
We hope we were able to sufficiently address your concern. Please bear in mind that our opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org